Going to college for four years might work for younger students who are still being supported by their parents, but adults usually need to get out of school and into a job quickly. Technical schools in Texas let you do just that. They offer certificates, career diplomas and associate degrees that take no more than two years to complete in most cases.
The National Skills Coalition reports 56 percent of Texas jobs require so-called middle skills but not a bachelor's degree. In other words, these are jobs requiring some training or an associate degree. However, only 42 percent of workers are qualified for these jobs. That means lots of opportunity for people with the right skills to launch a career in Texas.
Wind turbine service technicians, phlebotomists, manicurists and medical assistants have some of the fastest growing jobs in Texas, according to employment website CareerBuilder. None of these require a bachelor's degree, and they are just a small sample of the types of jobs you can get by attending vocational schools in Texas.
Why is Texas good for vocational schools?
Texas is a big state that offers big opportunities to its workers. Manufacturing, energy and computer technology are some of the region's target industries, and you'll find large employers like Texas Instruments, Dell and Peterbilt doing business here.
Houston is home to NASA mission control. Dallas has American Airlines. And the hospitality industry in Austin has been blowing up in recent years with a trendy food scene, SXSW music festival and the city's overall welcoming and laid-back vibe.
All this means plenty of jobs for workers with a variety of skills. You don't need a Ph.D. or even a bachelor's degree to work in Texas. Trade schools in Texas offer programs that can be completed in as little as a few months and lead to a rewarding line of work.
Top Vocational Schools in Texas
With so many schools available, finding the best vocational schools in Texas can be a challenge. We started with a list of trade schools in Texas and analyzed them for factors such as cost of attendance, graduation rate and the number of vocational programs offered. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard was used for our rankings.
After the numbers were crunched, the following ten names rose to the top as the best trade schools in Texas.
Located in Amarillo and serving residents of the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo College has a No Excuses 2020 strategic plan. It encompasses five goals to promote student success. These goals include a 70 percent completion rate by 2020, alignment of education programs with labor market demands and increased student engagement.
What vocational programs AC offers: Amarillo College offers certificates and associate degrees in nine areas including the liberal arts, business and the creative arts. Among its 2017-2018 graduates, health care was a popular field of study, particularly the school's pre-nursing program. If you can't make it to campus, AC offers more than a dozen fully online programs including ones in business administration and management.
St Philip's College was founded in 1898 and is both a historically black college and a Hispanic serving institution. Part of the Alamo Colleges District, this public institution has two campuses in San Antonio. The district was one of only five organizations nationwide to receive the 2018 Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award, a presidential-level honor issued by the government to organizations demonstrating visionary leadership and innovation.
What vocational programs St. Philip's College offers: You can study anything from engineering to the culinary arts at St. Philip's College. Top choices for recent graduates include programs in automotive technology and air conditioning and heating. Dozens of degrees and certificates offered by St. Philip's College can be completed online through AlamoONLINE, and these distance education programs feature an affordable tuition rate.
Del Mar College in Corpus Christi can boast of some impressive outcomes for its students. The school says 90 percent of graduates are either working or continuing their studies. For those who are working, the median first-year income for business, occupational and technical graduates is $57,000.
What vocational programs DMC offers: For its occupational programs, Del Mar College awards associate degrees, certificates and occupational skills awards. These programs cover 11 fields of study and include an associate degree in paralegal studies and registered nurse education. For those interested in Texas CTE student certifications, programs such as those in welding applied technology can prepare graduates to receive professional credentials.
Head to Odessa for another of the best trade schools in Texas. Odessa College not only makes this list but was also named a top ten finalist for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and received a Rising Star Award from the non-profit Aspen Institute. Thanks to the First Class Free Scholarship, new OC students don't have to pay for their first class either.
What vocational programs OC offers: Odessa College has five schools that offer certificates and degrees in fields such as engineering, business, health sciences, public service and humanities. More than 20 programs can be completed entirely online, including degrees and certificates in business administration and an associate degree in early childhood to 6th grade.
Serving a 15-county region, South Plains College has its main campus in Levelland and additional locations in Lubbock and Plainview. The school opened its doors in 1958 and now serves more than 15,000 students annually through its associate degree, career training and continuing education classes.
What vocational programs SPC offers: South Plains College offers technical education options in more than 20 fields of study. These cover business, communications, industry and professional services. Some of SPC's more popular programs among recent graduates include sound technology, welding technology and law enforcement. Upon graduation, students receive an Associate of Applied Arts, Associate of Applied Science or a Certificate of Proficiency. Professional services programs, such as those in cosmetology, meet Texas licensure requirements.
Students choose McLennan Community College for a number of reasons. The schools boasts small class sizes, and facilities on its Waco campus use the latest technology. There are success coaches and tutoring available to all students, and the McLennan University Center makes four-year degrees accessible and affordable to those who want to go on to earn a bachelor's degree.
What vocational programs McLennan offers: McLennan splits its programs into six different pathways, including STEM, health professions and business and industry. Traditional classes run for 16 weeks on campus while 8-week courses are available for night, weekend and online learners. Nursing and criminal justice are popular fields of study at McLennan as is the school's real estate program that prepares graduates to receive a Texas real estate salesperson or broker's license.
With a main campus in Baytown, Lee College enrolls more than 8,000 students across more than 100 certificate and degree programs. As one of the best trade schools in Texas, Lee College has received numerous honors, including being named an Achieving the Dream 2019 Leader College of Distinction.
What vocational programs Lee offers: Career and technical programs make up the bulk of Lee College's top ten degrees and certificates. These include an associate degree in process technology which prepares students to work as laboratory technicians. Programs in computer-aided drafting and design are popular too. Overall, there are dozens of educational options at Lee College that are designed to take students directly from the classroom to occupations in business, health care, information technology and more.
Western Texas College offers an affordable education to students from all walks of life. Its programs include academic degrees suitable for transfer to four-year institutions as well career and technical training. With an enrollment of approximately 2,250, WTC has its campus in Snyder and is something of a hidden gem in the big state of Texas.
What vocational programs WTC offers: At Western Texas College, you'll find eight different career and technical fields of study. The school's turfgrass and landscape management program attracts a significant number of students as do certificates in information technology business management. Criminal justice, early childhood and petroleum technology are a few of the other options offered at WTC. Courses for some trade programs may be available online.
Located in Orange, Lamar State College-Orange provides educational programs ranging from short-term certificates to two-year associate degrees. The institution has been serving area residents for 50 years and has made it a mission to transform lives. It does that by providing quality, innovative programs that are designed to encourage student success.
What vocational programs LSCO offers: Many of the vocational programs at Lamar State College-Orange prepare students for specific occupations. For instance, the emergency medical services program is intended for those who want to work as EMTs and first responders. According to the school, it seeks to provide career and technical training that is in line with local job market demands. Some courses may be available online, and these are administered through the Blackboard learning management system.
As another of the best career schools in Texas, Grayson College prides itself on providing personalized instruction, affordable tuition and professional instructors. Its classes are offered online as well as on its Denison campus. At the Center for Workforce Learning, GC provides workforce training, continuing education and corporate classes.
What vocational programs GC offers: Grayson College breaks its education programs down into six career pathways. These cover major areas such as business and entrepreneurship, health sciences and advanced manufacturing and logistics. Its online programs cover education, criminal justice and child development along with general studies. Among career paths that are regulated by the state, such as registered nursing, Grayson College has a more than 90 percent pass rate for licensure exams.
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in Texas
Trade schools in Texas typically offer an affordable higher education. While average tuition and fees at a public university in the state is $9,510 for residents in 2019-2020, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the average price tag at a community college is only $2,848 for in-district students. Those who study online can further lower the cost of their education by cutting out transportation and room and board expenses.
There are also a number of ways to find financial aid in Texas. These can further lower the cost of your education. Some Texas education grants are limited to those studying at four-year schools, but other grants and scholarships for undergraduates in Texas are open to those attending trade schools as well.
Below are several financial aid programs to explore. In most cases, you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility. For more about the FAFSA and how to apply for financial aid in Texas, check out our financial aid guide.
- Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program (TEOG): Open to those attending a public two-year college in the state, these Texas education grants are based on financial need. The maximum award for the 2019-2020 school year is $5,876.
- Texas Public Educational Grant Program (TPEG): Like TEOG, the TPEG offers assistance to public college and university students based on their financial need. Each school sets its own award amount.
- Texas Armed Services Scholarship Program: If you're interested in serving the country after graduation, you could have your entire cost of attendance - up to $4,000 - covered by a Texas Armed Services Scholarship. The scholarship goes to high-achieving students who enroll in an eligible ROTC program and commit to four years with the Guard Service or Armed Forces.
Initiatives for Vocational Students in Texas
Skilled trade and vocational workers are essential to many industries. To support students pursing these occupations at technical schools in the nation and in Texas, the federal government and state have enacted a number of funding and policy initiatives, such as the following:
- The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 is a federal law intended to support the success of career and technical students. For fiscal year 2019, Texas was awarded $111.4 million in Perkins funding for its vocational programs.
- Established by the state legislature, the Texas Science, Engineering, Math and Science (T-STEM) Challenge Scholarship Program provides money to community colleges and technical schools in Texas to fund merit-based scholarships for those studying in STEM fields.
Texas policies that benefit vocational students
Beyond providing money to trade schools in Texas, the state has also launched several initiatives to help students successfully complete their education. One of the more notable examples:
- The Texas Success Initiative is intended to ensure all students entering a public institution of higher education meet college readiness benchmarks in reading, writing and math. Those that don't are provided opportunities to gain these skills which are necessary to successfully completing most degree and certificate programs.
Texas has also created an inventory of industry-based certifications which includes professionally recognized certifications, the program of study aligned to the credential and the median salary of its corresponding occupation. This information is available on the Texas Education Agency website and is helpful for anyone who wants to research employment information before enrolling in a career college.
School-specific program initiatives in Texas
Many schools also offer their own programs to support career students and encourage vocational studies.
Many of the best trade schools in Texas offer dual enrollment options so students can earn credits toward a degree or certificate while still in high school. Eligibility for dual enrollment can vary by school. At South Texas College, for example, dual enrollment students can begin earning credits as early as the spring semester of their 9th grade year.
Meanwhile, nine institutions participate in the Community College Petrochemical Initiative. Funded with grants from ExxonMobil, the initiative promotes petrochemical careers and training for jobs in the Houston-Galveston region.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Texas
For more about career and technical education in Texas, check out these online resources:
- Advance CTE is a nonprofit organization of state directors and leaders working to advance career and technical education. Here, you'll find information about Texas enrollment, funding and other CTE topics.
- The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) works to make higher education more accessible to Texas residents. Its goal is to have 60 percent of young adults hold some form of postsecondary credential by 2030.
- The THECB has put together the College for All Texans website which brings together information ranging from choosing a college to applying for financial aid in Texas.
Expert Advice on Vocational Education in Texas
To gain an insider's perspective on technical and vocational schools in Texas, and their respective degree programs, we reached out to Alicia Strieker, regional director for Manpower.
|Alicia Strieker is a regional director for Manpower, an organization for employment and development opportunities.|
How do employers view vocational education, as opposed to a four-year degree?
Right now, competition for top talent is fierce, and an individual with the right skills and experience has many options. For some roles, skills and experience are more important than a four-year degree. Beyond that, some of the hardest positions to fill don't require a four-year degree. ManpowerGroup's 2015 Talent Shortage Survey found that skilled trades roles, drivers and technicians are among the top 10 hardest jobs to fill in the United States. While all require licensing, certification or training of some sort, none typically require a four-year degree.
What are the benefits or drawbacks to technical training or trade school?
Technical training programs and trades schools are a critical component of the educational system. They prepare students for career readiness, equipping them with a skill that will help them on a career path. Students need to know that these career paths, from welder to dental technician, offer marketable skills that bring long-term employment security at a time when job security is no longer a guarantee. It's time to remove the stigma and reinvent the image of technical training and associated technical careers. On the practical side, technical and trade school programs usually take less time and money than a four-year degree. However, there is less opportunity to easily shift gears if a student determines their path of study isn't a good fit.
What should students look for when considering a program?
In selecting training, students should look at the longevity of a program, the caliber of the instructors, cost in comparison to similar opportunities in the market, and the job placement rate among graduates. It can also be beneficial to talk with students that have previously completed the program.
Which industries are suited to vocational and technical education?
There are opportunities across many industries. Two of the most popular are manufacturing and healthcare. There are also opportunities in the legal industry, leisure and hospitality, transportation - really almost any industry you can think of.
How does Manpower view vocational or technical education when placing workers with clients?
Workers with vocational or technical education are a real asset for Manpower. That type of credential is appealing to our clients, and it gives the job seeker an edge over other candidates. Not only does it give evidence of a skill, it also demonstrates a person's commitment to learning and achieving goals.
Do you have any advice for someone hoping to enter the workforce through vocational or technical education?
The advice I give to anyone choosing their career path is find the overlap of a career that interests you and a skill that is in-demand and offers long-term employment opportunities and growth.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Number of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Houston Industries, Greater Houston Partnership, Accessed April 2019, https://www.houston.org/why-houston/industries/all-industries
- Largest Employers in the Dallas Fort Worth Area, Destination DFW, Accessed April 2019, http://www.destinationdfw.com/Largest-Employers-in-Dallas-Fort-Worth-Texas/
- It's Official: Austin is America's Next Great Food Town, Peter Jon Lindberg, February 22, 2018, Travel + Leisure, Accessed April 2019, https://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/austin-food-travel
- Texas' Forgotten Middle, National Skills Coalition, Accessed April 2019, https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/resources/publications/2017-middle-skills-fact-sheets/file/Texas-MiddleSkills.pdf
- Texas' fastest growing jobs over the next five years have nothing to do with oil and gas, Dom DiFurio, January 16, 2019, Dallas News, Accessed April 2019, https://www.dallasnews.com/business/business/2019/01/16/fastest-growing-jobs-texas-next-five-years-nothing-oil-gas-health-care-nursing
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed April 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- Mission and Values, Amarillo College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.actx.edu/president/mission-and-values
- Online Degrees and Certificates, Amarillo College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.actx.edu/de/online-degrees-and-certificates
- St. Philip's College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.alamo.edu/spc/
- Alamo Colleges wins Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, Kay Hendricks, November 15, 2018, Alamo Colleges District, Accessed April 2019, https://www.alamo.edu/news -- events/news/2018/november/alamo-colleges-district-wins-2018-malcolm-baldrige-national-quality-award/
- Welcome to online learning, AlamoONLINE, Accessed April 2019, https://www.alamo.edu/academics/online/
- Occupational Programs, Del Mar College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.delmar.edu/degrees/occupational-programs.html
- Del Mar College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.delmar.edu/
- Schools, Odessa College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.odessa.edu/programs/Schools/index.html
- Online Programs, Odessa College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.odessa.edu/future-students/OnlinePrograms/index.html
- 2019 Aspen Rising Star, Odessa College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.southplainscollege.edu/exploreprograms.php
- First Class Free, Odessa College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.odessa.edu/future-students/Tuition-and-Fees-and-Payment-Deadlines/FirstClassFree.html
- Explore Programs, South Plains College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.southplainscollege.edu/exploreprograms.php
- About South Plains College, South Plains College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.southplainscollege.edu/about/aboutspc.php
- McLennan Community College Pathways, McLennan Community College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.mclennan.edu/pathways/
- About McLennan, McLennan Community College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.mclennan.edu/about/
- Lee College Quick Facts, Lee College, Accessed April 2019, http://www.lee.edu/about/
- Degrees and Certificates, Lee College, Accessed April 2019, http://catalog.lee.edu/content.php?catoid=13&navoid=346
- Distance Learning, Western Texas College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.wtc.edu/distance_learning.html
- Career and Technical Programs, Western Texas College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.wtc.edu/whywtc/careertechnical.html
- Welcome from the President, Western Texas College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.wtc.edu/welcome.html
- Technical Studies, Lamar State College Orange, Accessed April 2019, https://www.lsco.edu/alliedhealth/alliedhealth.asp
- Vision, Mission, & Core Values, Lamar State College Orange, Accessed April 2019, https://www.lsco.edu/mission/mission.asp
- Online Programs and Classes, Grayson College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.grayson.edu/Pathways/online-programs-and-classes.html
- Career Pathways, Grayson College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.grayson.edu/Pathways/index.html
- Grayson College Student Achievement Data, Grayson College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.grayson.edu/about-us/institutional-effectiveness/student-achievement.html
- College Costs, College for All Texans, Accessed April 2019, http://www.collegeforalltexans.com/index.cfm?objectid=63188B97-0C47-0020-6DBBBAD96A7DFB83
- State of Texas Financial Aid Programs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Accessed April 2019, https://comptroller.texas.gov/programs/education/msp/funding/aid/aidtx.php
- CTE Funding, Association for Career & Technical Education, Accessed April 2019, https://www.acteonline.org/states/Texas/cte-funding/
- Texas Science, Engineering, Math, and Science (T-STEM) Challenge Scholarship Program, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Accessed April 2019, http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectid=50BE9090-1E3B-11E8-BC500050560100A9
- Overview: Texas Success Initiative, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Accessed April 2019, http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/PDF/9055.PDF?CFID=75220234&CFTOKEN=58522132
- Career & Technical Education, South Texas College, Accessed April 2019, https://www.southtexascollege.edu/dual/cte.html
- Facts, Community College Petrochemical Initiative, Accessed April 2019, https://www.gulfcoastcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ccpi-fact-sheet-july-2018.pdf